Nepal WASH Blog Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) & Development in Nepal

November 27, 2013

Inclusive toilets for all: A commitment made in SACOSAN V

Nepal hosted the Fifth South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN V) from October 22 to 24 in 2013 in Kathmandu. Adopted by all the participating governments and 400+ delegates, SACOSAN’s slogan this time was: “Sanitation for All: All for Sanitation”.

This year, I had a personal connection to SACOSAN V. Based on my presentation earlier this year on WASH and women with disability at a WaterAid-Nepal-hosted event, I was asked to submit a paper to the SACOSAN Technical Group. Shortly after I did, I learnt that my paper had been selected for a presentation in SACOSAN-V. I was very happy.

I realized that making the presentation would be a great platform for me to represent the WASH-specific issues of many men and women with disabilities in front of hundreds of influential authorities. At the same time, I was nervous because I was not sure how I would do. I started working on a longer version of my paper and arranging and re-arranging my PowerPoint slides. I practiced my presentation several times in front of a mirror.

When the time came to do my presentation, I saw that the Conference was attended by high level ministers, parliamentarians, senior policymakers, grass-roots activist, community leaders, civil society representatives, non-governmental organisational leaders, development partners, donors, the private sector, and the media. I had never spoken in front of so many people before. Up until the last minute, I asked myself if I would really be able to make my voice heard.

My presentation was under the theme of Reaching the Unreached. I started by showing a three-minute video. The hall was silent after the video ended. Picking up my voice, I presented everyday stories from Kathmandu about the lack of access to sanitation facilities in public buildings and government institutions for people with disabilities.

I shared stories from my childhood, how, because of my disabilities, I grew up with complexes, and suffered both mentally and physically due to an adequate and appropriate lack of access to sanitation. I even recounted an embarrassing incident of my school days, when a teacher scolded me when I raised the issue of sanitation. I shared my frustration at not being able to use a toilet with privacy and dignity in public places every day. I added that my case was not unique, but something which was sadly experienced by millions of people with disabilities across South Asia. I ended with a call to action – saying that to reach everyone with sanitation, we all urgently needed to pay attention to the needs of people with disabilities.

When the presentation ended and everybody applauded. Everyone was touched by my story and their questions were mostly directed at me. I felt happy that my heartfelt presentation made them view the issue of sanitation for the disabled with urgency.

On the last day of SACOSAN, South Asian Ministers and the delegates committed themselves publicly to build inclusive sanitation facilities in all public buildings, schools, colleges, and business facilities. This was one big achievement for which I am proud. The SACOSAN declaration can be viewed here .

Now that the SACOSAN is over, we have yet to see how the government puts its commitment to action. Actions, after all, speak louder than words. Here’s to hoping that sanitation commitments made for people with disabilities during the SACOSAN V will turn into action in the near future. For some reason, I am much more optimistic this time than ever before.

Amrita Gyawali works as a consultant on Equity and Inclusion at WaterAid Nepal

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